Miami Beach’s transportation officials envision a $10 million citywide transit system that could allow local riders to ditch the car and scoot around the city on trolleys.
The popular South Beach trolley, created to temporarily help people get around disruptive construction on Alton Road and West Avenue, could continue past this year with a wider route. Two trolley routes running through Mid-Beach are also in the planning stages and could possibly start in early 2016.
The city debuted the free Alton/West trolley — paid for by resort taxes — in February 2014 with approval from Miami-Dade County, which has to approve such municipal transit projects. The county allowed the service in light of the traffic headaches created by the construction from necessary drainage projects.
The Beach’s license to operate the trolley expires in July, but the service has proven very popular, with an average of about 1,000 people a day riding the small loop. The city wants to extend that license one month while it works on a plan to expand the service to the areas south of Fifth Street, east to Collins Avenue and north to 17th Street.
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City Commissioners sitting on the Neighborhoods/Community Affairs Committee favored a route that is estimated to cost about $2.9 million and runs trolleys in both directions along in a 4.7-mile loop.
In an interview Thursday, Beach transportation director Jose Gonzalez said the preferred route was designed to compliment the county’s South Beach Local bus and allow passengers to quickly move back and forth around South Beach with trolleys going in both directions on the loop.
“It’s a better service because it provides more flexibility for passengers,” he said. “It’s a lot quicker to get on the bus on the opposite side of the street to head in the other direction.”
Gonzalez also presented commissioners a preliminary plan for two routes to run through Mid-Beach to connect South Beach and North Beach. The “Middle Beach Loop” would serve the 41st Street corridor, connecting Mount Sinai Medical Center with Lincoln Road through 41st Street and Collins Avenue. A second route, called the “Collins Link,” would connect the Middle Beach Loop to the trolley in North Beach through Collins Avenue and Indian Creek Drive.
After initial talks with the county, Gonzalez believes the Middle Beach Loop is more likely to get approved before the Collins Link because of county concerns over duplication of existing bus routes.
“They want a level of comfort that we’re not just going to be taking their riders,” Gonzalez told commissioners Tuesday. “And that’s not our goal, either. At the end of the day, what we want to attract are the choice riders, or people who are currently Mid-Beach residents that are using their vehicles rather than taking transit.”
Commissioner Michael Grieco wondered whether a trolley connecting Mid-Beach and North Beach would take riders away from the county bus.
“I don’t know how many folks would be getting on a county bus in Mid-Beach to necessarily go to North Beach,” he said Tuesday. City staffers said they could look at data to determine ridership trends.
Both new Mid-Beach routes would cost about $5.9 million that would come from resort taxes. Together with the South Beach plan and the existing North Beach trolley, which costs about $ 1.6 million and moves about 2,000 passengers a day, a citywide trolley system would cost about $10 million.
The committee, chaired by Ed Tobin and composed of Micky Steinberg and Grieco, voted to revisit the Mid-Beach routes at next month’s committee meeting for further discussion. With Commissioner Joy Malakoff also present, the committee agreed to recommend the South Beach proposal to the full City Commission.
The South Beach route could be up and running by the end of this year. The Mid-Beach trolleys, which will be further discussed at next months committee meeting, could take a little longer.
Tobin cited the $10 million price tag while asking for more time to think about how to best implement the Mid-Beach routes, including one-on-one briefings with commissioners and the transportation.
“This is still a big-ticket item,” he said Tuesday. “I think rapid transit is great, and I think having it free is great. I just think we need to spend more time thinking about this.”
Tobin complimented Gonzalez on the South Beach route, which the committee agreed would help residents south of Fifth Street with everyday tasks like getting to the grocery store.
“You’re going to really help this community, Jose, with this alternative in South Beach,” he said.
On Thursday, Gonzalez said the ultimate goal is to help alleviate the constant traffic snarls that plague the Beach each day.
“We want to reduce the dependency on vehicles and parking,” he said. “What we want is to be a city where we attract a lot of people but not necessarily cars.”